Holders Spain were held to a 1-1 draw by a dogged and determined Italy at the Arena Gdansk here yesterday in the opening Group C match at the European Championship.
Italy took the lead on 61 minutes through substitute Antonio Di Natale only minutes before the world champions equalised through Cesc Fabregas.
Brilliant: Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas celebrates after scoring against Italy in their Group C clash at the Gdansk Arena yesterday. PIC/AFP
But Chelsea striker Fernando Torres missed two glorious late chances after coming off the bench to replace the goalscorer.
A draw was a fair result as Italy were the better side in the first half and were fearless in taking the game to the world champions. Both coaches sprung a surprise with their team selections as Vicente Del Bosque opted to go without a striker, playing Fabregas between Andres Iniesta and David Silva.
Italy’s Cesare Prandelli opted for Juventus reserve Emanuele Giaccherini in the left wing-back position, a role the forward is far from used to playing.
And the surprises continued until after kick-off as Italy were the better side in the first period. Spain clearly lacked a striker and were guilty of over-playing the ball on several occasions.
Painful: Italy’s Thiago Motta (right) falls to the ground during last night’s match against Spain. PICs/Getty Images
Italy kept it tight, dropping into a back five with three in front of them when they didn’t have the ball. But they showed no fear when claiming possession and attacked with gusto.
Goalscorer Antonio Di Natale’s first act after coming on for Mario Balotelli was to beat the offside trap on 61 minutes to meet Pirlo’s precise through ball and clip home beyond Casillas.
That seemed to wake up the holders, though, and a clever move saw the ball shift quickly from Iniesta to Silva and then the breaking Fabregas to finish under Buffon.
Del Bosque finally brought Torres on for Fabregas but when presented almost immediately with a one-on-one chance he overran the ball and Buffon cleared the danger. From another Italian defensive mistake Torres was presented a glorious opportunity but instead of playing in the unmarked Jesus Navas, he chipped Buffon and the bar.